Last week we were overjoyed to learn that a new collection of unheard recordings by the Beatles will be hitting stores on November 11th. Called On Air – Live At The BBC Volume 2, the double disc is the follow up to their 1994 retrospective that draws on exclusive recordings made for radio titan in the early sixties. The sessions not only include rare live performances of classic Lennon-McCartney originals, but it also features cover versions of songs that were never recorded anywhere else. So we’re about to hear brand new music from the Beatles…how awesome is that!?!
Obviously we’d be thrilled about any offering from our favorite Liverpudlians, but the news got us thinking about the host of other legendary Beatles recordings that still haven’t seen the light of day after nearly half a century in the vaults. Some of us raging Beatlemaniacs have had to turn to the hard stuff (low quality bootlegs) to get our Fab Four fix over the years, and we’ve uncovered some gems that would dazzle hardcore obsessives and casual listeners alike. And then there are some mythical “lost” recordings that are just languishing away in a tape box somewhere, unheard by anyone. This stuff keeps us up at night!
Read on to see (and occasionally hear) 20 legendary unreleased Beatles recordings that we’d love to see issued. We’re not trying to be greedy, but if any record execs out there are trying to put together a new compilation together, may we humbly suggest these?
20. “Puttin’ On The Style/Baby Let’s Play House” (The Quarrymen performance, July 6th 1957)
The sound quality is a little rough on this one, but the history is crystal clear in this tape of a 16-year-old John Lennon performing with his first group. Not only is this the earliest recorded musical venturings of any pre-Beatles, but it was apparently captured the very day that Lennon was introduced to a 15-year-old kid named Paul McCartney! The recording was done at the St Peter’s Parish Fete, a church fair in the leafy Liverpool suburb of Woolton. Student Bob Molyneux was testing out his new tape player, and inadvertently captured the unmistakable sound of Lennon and his friends from the Quarry Bank School (hence the name) providing some afternoon entertainment with the skiffle tune “Puttin’ On The Style” and Elvis Presley’s “Baby Let’s Play House.”
Little Paul was in the audience, and apparently liked what he heard. He asked to meet the plucky frontman after his set, and the rest is….well, you know. The meeting of Lennon and McCartney has become a myth in the minds of Beatlemaniacs, so it’s really special to hear the songs from that day. It’s a rock ’n’ roll Big Bang! The tape above is just a short excerpt of the complete version, released to the media before it was auctioned off. We’d love to hear the whole thing…
Coincidently, Lennon borrowed the opening line of “Baby Let’s Play House” for his song “Run For Your Life,” released on 1965’s Rubber Soul. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
19. “September In The Rain” (Decca audition tape, January 1st, 1962)
On New Year’s Day 1962, the Beatles (with Pete Best on drums, in lieu of Ringo) drove south from Liverpool to London to audition for Decca, one of the largest record companies at the time. The pre-fabs whistled through 15 songs from their live setlist in just under an hour, jumping genres from rock to pop and even showtunes. Despite (or perhaps because of) their varied song choices, Decca famously passed on the group, apparently telling them that “guitar groups are on their way out,” and that “the Beatles have no future in show-business.” Womp womp. But at least their audition was recorded for the ages! Many of the tracks recorded that day have found their way onto The Beatles Anthology project in 1995, but this old chestnut sung with spit and vinegar by McCartney is pretty hard to find.
18. Full Set From The Cavern Club (1962)
The Beatles cut their teeth and honed their talents playing at the Cavern Club, tucked away in an old fruit cellar on Liverpool’s Matthew Street. The band played there an astonishing 292 times between February 1961 to August 1963, and it was widely seen as the group’s home base. A precious few recordings from their electrifying early sets have surfaced over the years, but not as many as you might think given the number of times they performed there. They recorded a tape of themselves rehearsing in late 1962, and a few songs were famously filmed by Grenada Television around the same time, but the real crown jewel is an 18-song tape containing covers that have yet to circulate on Beatle-bootlegs/the interwebs. These include versions of Bruce Channel’s “Hey! Baby”, “If You Gotta Make a Fool of Somebody” by James Ray, and more! The tape was apparently bought at auction by Paul McCartney in the ’80s, so we can be reasonably sure it’s not going to leak out until he’s good and ready for us to hear it.
17. “I’m In Love” (John demo, 1963)
As the Beatles’ success took off in 1963, so did the demand for songs by other Liverpool bands who wanted to get a piece of the Lennon-McCartney magic. Always willing to oblige, John and Paul cranked out an astonishing number of poppy tunes, many times giving them away without a second thought (but keeping the best for themselves, of course). Often they would record a quick acoustic demo as a musical blueprint for these other bands, and these demos are incredibly charming. Case in point: this Lennon demo of a song that was later recorded by their friends, The Fourmost.
16. “Bad To Me” (John demo, 1963)
John Lennon wrote this song for fellow Liverpudlians Billy J.Kramer and the Dakotas, who shared Beatles manager Brian Epstein. In fact, John apparently wrote it while on holiday with Epstein in April 1963. He recorded a demo for Billy and the boys to follow when they went into Abbey Road Studios to cut the song (with Paul McCartney in attendance, for added Beatle effect). The tune was one of the stronger ones that the Beatles “gave away,” going to number one in the UK, and becoming a top ten hit in the States the following year. The demo is fun to hear, providing an alternate universe glimpse into if the Fab Four themselves issued the song.
15. “One and One Is Two” (Paul demo, 1964)
Keeping with the theme, Paul recorded this song-to-order demo in his suite at Paris’ George V hotel in January 1964, mere days before he learned that the Beatles had their first American number one with “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” However, the same fate was not in store for this little tune, written in response to mounting pressure from the record company for more “product.” Lennon completely denied he had anything to do with the composition, later calling it one of Paul’s “bad attempts” at songwriting. It was rejected by not just one, but TWO of their Liverpool mates, Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas (who recorded “Bad To Me” several months before), and The Fourmost (who had already had hits with several Lennon-McCartney songs, including John’s “I’m In Love”). A version was eventually released by the South African group The Strangers with Mike Shannon in May 1964, and it disappeared without a trace.
14. “A World Without Love” (Paul demo, 1964)
Paul got it right this time with a tune that he apparently started writing when he was just 16. Originally offered to Billy J. Kramer, the lyrics still needed a little work and he rejected it. “The funny first line always used to please John,” McCartney recalled in his memoir Many Years From Now. “’Please lock me away –’ ’Yes, okay.’ End of song.” When Paul moved into the family home of then-girlfriend Jane Asher, he dusted it off and gave it to her little brother Peter, who lived in the room next door and had just received a contract to record as the duo Peter and Gordon. The song went to number one on both sides of the Atlantic. For years the sole copy Paul’s acoustic demo was in Peter Asher’s possession, but a 30-second clip of the tape leaked early this year. In order to hear the whole thing, you have to get tickets to Peter’s live show!
13. “Yellow Submarine” (“Rap” intro, 1966)
Already one of the most beloved songs in the Beatle cannon, this child-friendly tune originally had a long spoken-word intro penned by John Lennon in the style of a medieval epic poem and read by Ringo Starr. The ode name-checked a charity walk done by Dr. Barbara Moore from Land’s End to John O’Groats (the two points farthest apart on the British mainland) and somehow tied back to the whole yellow submarine theme. Yeah, we don’t really get it either. Although they spent hours trying to get all kinds of sound effects in place, session engineer Geoff Emerick described the final result as “in a word, boring,” and the intro idea was ultimately scrapped. It finally saw the light of day (albeit briefly) as a track on the CD single for “Real Love,” a Lennon demo completed by the three surviving Beatles for the Anthology project in 1996.
12. Final Live Concert At Candlestick Park (August 29th, 1966)
The Beatles never made an official announcement that their performance at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park was to be the last touring show of their career. But they all felt it would be, so Paul McCartney handed a small tape recorder to press officer Tony Barrow and asked him to document the occasion. And that wasn’t the only sign that something was different about this particular gig. Photos from the day show that the four were carrying cameras, and they reportedly paused during the performance to get a few group selfies from the stage. Paul’s tape ran out before they got through all of their last song, Little Richard’s “Long Tall Sally,” but those in attendance swear that John played the guitar figure from “In My Life” as they took their final bow as a touring band and retreated to the studio phase of their career.
11. “Carnival Of Light” (1967)
There’s no better way to mark the Beatles new identity as a studio-based entity than a experimental “freak-out” sound collage! In fact, this 14-minute epic has become probably the single most sought-after Beatle recording in history. Artist David Vaughan asked Paul McCartney to contribute to the Million Volt Light and Sound Rave (also known as “The Carnival Of Light”), an event to showcase light displays and electronic music. So on January 5th 1967, after working on the extremely tuneful and organized “Penny Lane,” Paul decided to take things in a different direction. “I said ’All I want you to do is just wander around all the stuff, bang it, shout, play it, it doesn’t need to make any sense. Hit a drum, then wander onto the piano, hit a few notes and just wander around’,” he told the BBC in 2008. The result was pure audio chaos, with no melody, rhythm, form, or lyrics.
The piece received its debut at the festival, where Vaughan was apparently left underwhelmed. “I asked Paul to do it and I thought he would make more of it than he did,” he was quoted as saying. “I thought this was a vehicle for him, if anything was. My trouble is, I expect everybody to drop everything. I forget other people have got things on.” Yeah, like recording Sgt. Pepper, one of the most ground-breaking records of the 20th century.
“Carnival Of Light” was presumably was never played again until 1987, when Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn was permitted to listen -and it apparently freaked him out. According to his book The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, the track consisted of “distorted, hypnotic drum and organ sounds, a distorted lead guitar, the sound of a church organ, various effects (water gargling was one) and, perhaps most intimidating of all, John Lennon and McCartney screaming dementedly and bawling aloud random phrases like ’Are you alright?’ and ’Barcelona!'” Some echo-drenched overdubs included a schmaltzy cinema organ, jangling pub piano, Native American battle cries, whistling, close-miked gasping, coughing, studio banter, and electronic feedback with Lennon shouting ’Electricity!’
So far the track has never appeared on any release, official or bootlegged. McCartney wanted to include it on the Anthology 2 compilation in 1996, but it was veto’d by George Harrison for being “too avant-garde.” He still holds the master tapes and has been teasing a legit release for years now. “The time has come for it to get its moment,” he added during the BBC interview. “I like it because it’s the Beatles free, going off piste.” Maybe he’ll include it on his upcoming record, New? We can hope…
10. “It’s All Too Much” (extended version, 1967)
Recorded soon after the sessions for Sgt. Pepper wrapped in April 1967, this anthemic George Harrison track got bumped from the following Magical Mystery Tour album and relegated to a spot on the soundtrack to the Yellow Submarine animated film. Generally viewed as a dumping ground for cast-offs and rejected material (stocked with a few previously-released singles), the regal-yet-psychedelic grandeur of “It’s All Too Much” shines bright. Already lengthy at over 6-minutes, there is also a much longer version containing extra verses.
9. “Child Of Nature” (1968)
In early ’68, the Beatles went to the Indian ashram of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi for a intensive course on Transcendental Meditation. With none of the city distractions, they composed an enormous cache of songs, including this one inspired by a lecture on “the son of mother nature.” Paul was similarly moved to write “Mother Nature’s Son” around the same theme. Upon returning to England, the band gathered at George Harrison’s Esher home to record acoustic demos for tracks that would become The Beatles (know forevermore as The White Album). But the demos would make a pretty album in their own right!
Several titles from these sessions didn’t make the final cut, ending up on later Beatles records, or even solo works. But ” Child of Nature” met with a different fate entirely. Lennon shelved the song until 1971 when he was recording his Imagine record. He took the melody and wrote new lyrics around it, transforming the song into the bruising self portrait “Jealous Guy.”
8. “Etcetera” (Paul demo, 1968)
Paul McCartney taped a one-take acoustic demo of this song during the sprawling White Album sessions, the same day he recorded the gentle “Mother Nature’s Son.” He wrote it with the intention to give it to his friend Marianne Faithful to sing, apparently in the style of her hit “As Tears Go By.” A tape engineer who assisted on the recording claims it was a beautiful ballad, but it seems like we’ll never know for certain: Paul took the tape with him that evening, and it hasn’t seen the light of day since. It’s safe to say that McCartney is not a fan of the tune, which he dismissed as “a bad song,” and “dreadful.” And he’s just getting started. “I think it’s a good job that it’s died a death in some tape bin. Even then I seem to remember thinking it wasn’t very good.” We’ll be the judge of that!
7. “Revolution” (Take 20, 1968)
Two songs from the White Album had their genesis in gritty extended jams: John’s “Revolution” and Paul’s “Helter Skelter.” Producer George Martin put a bluesy version of the “Helter Skelter” sessions on 1996’s Anthology 3, but edited the 27-minute version down to an abbreviated 4 and a half. “I think it gets boring,” he admitted frankly when asked why he had done so.
The extended “Revolution” take is much more interesting, however. The first high quality tape started making the rounds in 2009, featuring a nearly 11-minute version of the song. It starts off as the same version heard on the record, but things start to get weird on the fadeout. Strange vocal overdubs and chants can be heard, tape speed is varied seemingly at random, and radio static is brought in. The form of the track unravels even further, with Yoko Ono dubbing in spoken word verse and other studio chatter for a musique concrete effect.
In the days following the sessions, John decided to divide the 11-minute epic in half, labeling the more conventional first 4 minutes as “Revolution 1,” and using the remaining portion for the frightening avant garde sound collage known as “Revolution 9.” We could never figure out how these two vastly diverse works fit together, but thanks to the infamous Take 20, now we can!
6. “Dig It” (extended version, 1969)
It’s impossible to count the number of bootlegs that have sprouted from the infamous Get Back (later known as Let It Be) recording dates. That’s what happens when you leave the camera and tapes rolling for a month straight while the band runs through every single song they’ve ever known! The Beatles pulled all sorts of strange stuff out of their communal musical attic during these (generally unpleasant) sessions from January 2nd to January 30th 1969, during which a documentary crew filmed the creative geniuses hard at work on their latest album. At least that was the intent. Oldies from their early ’60s set list, never-recorded song writing efforts, half-hearted covers of contemporary songs, and even some brand new original material; it all got mixed in these drawn out sessions. Improvisational jamming also made up a huge part of the days, with a short snippet of the fun and infectious “Dig It” seeing release on the official Let It Be record in 1970. But the full 8-minute version is something else, showing off John’s unparalleled ability to make up lyrics on the spot.
5. “Two Of Us” (rocker version) (1969)
The purpose of the Get Back project was just that: helping the band find their way back to their early rock ’n’ roll roots, and stripping away all of the studio wizardry that had kept them from playing together like a group of musicians. Thanks to this credo, many of the songs from these sessions have a rollicking ’50s feel. We know Paul’s “Two Of Us” as an Everly Brothers-like acoustic ballad, but it started off as a rocked up barnstormer. The footage from the Let It Be documentary gives just a taste of how good it sounds roughed up, as well as how much fun gunslingers John and Paul have sharing a mic. Even though Paul reportedly wrote the tune about drives in the country with his future-wife Linda Eastman, the title “Two Of Us” no doubt had special relevance to the two old friends.
4. “Wake Up In The Morning” (1969)
Not much is known about this shuffling song with a country twang that was discovered only a few years back. All we have is that it came from the days worth of tapes for the Get Back/Let It Be sessions. Only this one recording of it is known to exist, and judging from the chatter it sounds like a very early Lennon-McCartney original from the late ’50s. Obviously they never felt like it was worthy of revisiting after this take, but it’s wonderful hearing the warm harmony in their voices -McCartney’s sweet blending with Lennon’s sour. Plus, any song from their embryonic songwriting oeuvre is always interesting.
3. “The Palace Of The King Of The Birds” (1969)
The Beatles go jam band! Paul McCartney takes the lead on this instrumental taken the Get Back/Let It Be mountain of tapes, bearing a passing resemblance to the instrumental theme from Midnight Cowboy. It plods along for ten minutes or so (the clip above is the edited version), with the band sounding more like the Grateful Dead than their usual Fab selves. They did several passes of the tune over the next few days, but in the end it was destined for the tape box scap heap. What’s interesting is that Paul recorded it again 9 years later in 1978, for the soundtrack to a proposed Rupert The Bear animated film. This version of the tune was a lot more solid and a lot less noodle-y, but film never came to fruition and so the tune (renamed “Castle of the King Of The Birds”) was shelved a second time. Still, it’s interesting to see the Beatles stretch their instrumental muscle to their limits, something they did only on rare occasions.
2. “Goodbye” (demo) (1969)
Paul wrote this song in late 1968 to give to his protégée Mary Hopkin, whom he signed to the Beatles’ own Apple records and guided to the top of the charts the previous summer with “Those Were The Days.” Anxious to capitalize on the success of the 19-year-old chanteuse, he penned this ditty in a hurry, apparently having little recollection of doing so in later years! He recorded a demo for her in February 1969, and went in the studio to produce it for her a month later, providing the guitar intro, bass, and percussion himself. Lightening did indeed strike twice, and the song went to Number 2 in the UK that May, being kept off the top spot by the Beatles’ own “Get Back.” So yeah, it was a good month to be Paul McCartney.
1. “Now And Then” (The Threetles Sessions)
Thirteen years after the tragic murder of John Lennon on the streets of the New York City, the three surviving Beatles teamed up in January 1994 to assemble their autobiographical documentary/CD/book series, The Beatles Anthology. John’s widow Yoko Ono contributed some tapes consisting of incomplete song demos recorded by her late husband, which Paul, George, and Ringo took to the studio to complete. Dubbed “the Threetles” by the press, the world was thrilled by the two “reunion” singles, “Free as a Bird” and “Real Love.”
But few people know that they began sessions for an intended third single, a reworking of a Lennon demo called “Now And Then.” The Fab Three apparently spent several days working on a backing track, but in the end the work was scrapped. As you can hear, the demo required quite a bit of work to flesh it out, which Harrison reportedly didn’t feel comfortable doing. “It was one day—one afternoon, really—messing with it,” says producer Geoff Lynne. “The song had a chorus but is almost totally lacking in verses. We did the backing track, a rough go that we really didn’t finish.” There was also the problem of a loud hum that ran through the demo tape, which proved difficult to remove from the final product.
The sessions with with the Threetles for “Now and Then” have yet to surface, but Paul has consistently stated over the years that he wants to finish the song as a final Lennon-McCartney work, with a little help from Ringo on drums, and archived guitar work from George. In fact, rumors have been swirling for quite some time that the track is complete and awaiting its moment to shine. Perhaps a bonus track on Sir Paul’s upcoming record…?